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    Rep. Michelle Steel wants schools to disclose use of personal rating in admissions
    • July 4, 2023

    In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to strike down affirmative action in college admissions, declaring race cannot be a factor in deciding whether or not to admit someone into college, Rep. Michelle Steel reintroduced legislation to require colleges and universities to publicize their use of personality traits in making admissions decisions.

    Some universities, she said, may still use personality tests that serve as a proxy for racial discrimination.

    “While the Supreme Court put an end to universities’ discriminatory quota system this week, many schools may still use arbitrary personality assessments that have been used to disadvantage Asian American students in the admissions process,” Steel said.

    In 2014, Harvard University was accused of discriminating against academically strong Asian American applicants by its use of a “personal rating,” which includes factors like being a “good person” or “likeability.” Court documents showed that Harvard conducted an internal investigation in 2013, which uncovered bias against Asian American applicants.

    According to student records filed by Students For Fair Admission, the group representing the Asian American students in the case, Asian American applications scored lower than others on such traits.

    While California banned race-conscious admissions in public schools in 1996 after voters approved Proposition 209, California’s private colleges and universities were exempt from the ban.

    Many private institutions, including Chapman University, USC, Pepperdine University and the California Institute of Technology, still include personal insight questions — although some are optional — in their applications to measure potential students’ performance and whether they are a “good fit.”

    Steel’s bill would require schools that accept federal funds to publicize their use of a “personal rating” test on their website and application materials, including a statement “informing applicants of the use of personality traits in making admission determinations, the rationale for such use of personality traits, a description of the process under which personality traits are considered and the standards and criteria used for rating personality traits.”

    “The Princeton Review has told Asian American students to avoid including their photos, talking about their culture and never answer questions about their ethnic background,” Steel said.

    Her bill, she said, “requires schools to be transparent and tell us exactly how the process works in how they score these students, and that’s the bottom line.”

    Her first version of the bill, introduced in 2022, was referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor but was not voted on.

    Steel, R-Seal Beach, said she is reintroducing the legislation to “shine a light on this process and ensure that all students and their families are fully aware of which schools are using these tests, the metrics used and the rational for these personality traits.”

    The Supreme Court stood divided in its decision on affirmative action last week, with the conservative majority voting in favor of striking down the race-conscious admissions policies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. But Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s first Latina, wrote in a dissent that the decision “rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress.”

    An immigrant from Korea, Steel applauded the Supreme Court’s decision, saying it “marks a new chapter in the fight for equality in education.”

    And Rep. Young Kim, R-Anaheim, another Orange County lawmaker who hails from Korea, said the decision is a “huge victory for students of all backgrounds.”

    “We should not hold students back and send a dangerous message that one’s race and background matters more than one’s merits and character,” Kim said.

    Spurred by the decision, a civil rights group backed by the NAACP and Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights challenging legacy admissions at Harvard.

    The complaint draws on Harvard data that came to light amid the affirmative action case. Records revealed that 70% of Harvard’s donor-related and legacy applicants are White and being a legacy student makes an applicant roughly six times more likely to be admitted.

    It also alleges that Harvard’s legacy preference has nothing to do with merit and takes away slots from qualified students of color; it asks the Education Department to declare the practice illegal and force Harvard to abandon it as long as the university receives federal funding.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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    ​ Orange County Register